- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

SAN ANTONIO — Signs posted throughout the New Orleans Saints’ hotel direct players to the place where they can get their ankles taped. Other signs guide them on a quarter-mile path to a foot bridge, over the Riverwalk and across a busy street to the building where team meetings are held.

In the makeshift headquarters, right past a uniformed San Antonio police officer who serves as a security guard, players come to a handwritten board that points them in different directions — the offense going one way, the defense another.

And when meetings end — sometimes interrupted by a ringing telephone because the rooms double as coaches’ offices — the team piles onto buses for a 10-minute drive to the high school fields that have turned into their practice facility.

Such is the new life for the Saints as they try getting ready for the NFL season after being driven from their home by Hurricane Katrina.

The team moved into San Antonio last weekend and began practicing Monday for the regular-season opener Sunday at Carolina. Coach Jim Haslett has reminded his players and staff that, considering what is going on in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, any complaining about their temporary home will ring hollow.

“I think when you feel sorry for yourselves, you go upstairs and watch TV and that kind of goes away,” Haslett said. “We’re kind of crammed into some quarters — we’re short a copying machine and I’ve got a couple of coaches sleeping at the Alamodome — but we’re not behind at all in our preparations. It’s not going to hurt us one or another being here at all.”

Even the Saints’ media relations office is making do. Daily news releases are copied onto plain paper — the team letterhead was left behind, so more is being printed.

With each day, things are increasingly returning to normal — or at least whatever normal is, considering the circumstances.

Quarterback Aaron Brooks and his wife were among many families spending yesterday’s day off trying to rent a home in San Antonio. Receiver Joe Horn said he’s considering buying a place.

“Unfortunately, it’s our new home, temporarily,” Brooks said. “We’re going to have to accept that and be as comfortable as possible and get into a normal schedule for the regular season.”

In a way, temporary living arrangements are similar to what players face when they switch teams during the season.

“The players want an automobile and a place to live,” Haslett said. “Once they get that, they have a place where you can drive over to work and go home and lay down. That’s all you really need in this business.”

General manager Mickey Loomis said the team is planning to practice in San Antonio for the rest of the season. They may even end up playing one or more home games in the Alamodome.

The Louisiana Superdome was so heavily damaged from the hurricane and its aftermath that it likely will have to be torn down, spokesperson for Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco told CNN yesterday.

Katrina sheared away much of the roof’s covering, and rainwater began leaking into the stadium when it was being used as a shelter of last resort for thousands of residents stranded by the storm.

The Saints’ first choice is moving to LSU’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., and the league is still exploring all options, including having them play all 16 games on the road.

The team’s practice facility in Metairie, La., is dry. But it has been used by the Federal Emergency Management Administration to help in the disaster relief.

“It doesn’t seem like we’ll be able to return to New Orleans in the near future,” Loomis said. “We’ve got [players and staff] that have kids that need to go to school and a lot of other issues with families. We think it’s fair to them that we establish a base here.”

Saints part-owner/executive Rita Benson LeBlanc, the granddaughter of owner Tom Benson, said children of players, coaches and staff members who are making the trip to Texas with their fathers are being enrolled in local schools.

Offensive lineman Jermane Mayberry, who grew up in nearby Floresville, said many players have approached him and asked if he knows about good places to live.

On the football side, players have wondered where other necessities will be located. The team is operating without a weight room, though Haslett said the equipment soon will be in place.

The Saints have rented hydraulic lifts to record overhead views of practice. To watch the video, they’re using meeting rooms equipped with large-screen video displays inside the city’s convention center.

Creature comforts that players normally have must wait.

“I would love to get in the hot tub right now and get in the cold tub and get my legs back,” Horn said. “But I’m sure there’s a lot of people that would love to have their homes. They’d love to see their little brother walk through the door. What the New Orleans Saints are going through right now is a cakewalk.”

Players know they must focus on what they have, rather than worry about what’s missing.

“I don’t expect on Sunday for the Carolina Panthers to feel sorry for us,” Horn said. “In their heart, I’m sure they will. But once that clock starts, I’m not going to run around and catch a ball and not expect Julius Peppers to knock my head off.”

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